The Buzz Beach Ball festival at Richard L. Berkley Riverfront Park served as a compelling survey of the state of commercial modern rock. Friday’s capacity audience of 18,000 heard 14 bands exhibit sounds ranging from sleek synth-pop to snarling punk rock.
Bands alternated playing on two stages for more than nine hours. The nuisances associated with outdoor festivals — windblown sound, tight quarters and talkative audiences — were present, but aside from unreasonably long lines for food, beverages and portable toilets, the concert ran smoothly. The exceptional quality of the majority of performances at the event sponsored by radio station 96.5 the Buzz compensated for the inconveniences.
Phoenix’s delightful appearance validated its role as the festival’s primary headliner. The French band imbued its frothy pop with remarkable intelligence. The stately funk and obtuse shuffles of Britain’s Alt-J also impressed.
Like a molly-addled Depeche Mode fronted by a punk rock version of Miley Cyrus, Kitten was the festival’s most mesmerizing act. Vocalist Chloe Chaidez behaved like a feral animal as she badgered her bandmates, crowd-surfed and climbed scaffolding. MS MR, a musically similar band from New York, followed Kitten with a relatively tame performance.
The surprisingly popular folk revival was represented by two European bands. The mournful vocals and artful arrangements of London’s Daughter provided a few of the day’s most inspired moments. The ingratiating Irish ensemble Little Green Cars distinguished itself with elegant harmonies.
Although the approach is somewhat out of favor, several traditional guitar-centered rock bands were on hand. Coheed and Cambria, a New York-based band known for its science fiction subtexts and heroic metal-tinged rock, was powerful in its role as the second stage’s headlining act. The gutter-minded garage rock of Los Angeles’ Hanni El Khatib instigated lurid dancing. The gleeful noise of San Diego’s Wavves recalled the unruly college rock of the 1980s, while Kentucky’s Cage the Elephant evoked the swagger of the Rolling Stones.
Outings by three other rock-oriented bands were less successful. The bombastic showmanship and glittery song craft of California’s Awolnation resembled a misguided Broadway musical based on the life of David Bowie. The efforts of the Australian trio Atlas Genius and Texas’ Saints of Valory were similarly inconsequential.
Several of the bands on the bill are either chasing trends or happen to specialize in one of the stylish sounds of the moment. Radkey’s bracing punk seems entirely authentic. The young trio from St. Joseph opened the main stage with the hardest-hitting set of the day. Bassist Isaiah Radke noted that the band will spend much of the fall touring Europe. It’s entirely possible that Radkey will develop into one of the main attractions at future Buzz Beach Ball festivals.